From Serbian Independence to Israel
Between 1804 and 1835 Serbia fought for independence from the Ottoman Empire that had ruled over the Balkans for more than 400 years. Men like Dositej Obradović and Vuk Karadžić emphasized the essentials of being Serbian, the things that unified the Serbian people and nation. Language, customs, and a shared history became the foundation of the rallying cry, “Only unity saves Serbs!”
It was this developing nationalism that impressed itself upon a Sephardic rabbi in Zemun, near Belgrade.
Writing first in his native Ladino, then switching to Hebrew in his later years, Rabbi Yehudah Alkalai pushed forward the idea that the only way for the dispersed Jewish nation to protect their culture was to unify in one nation – the Holy Land.
Rabbi Alkalai recorded his ideas years before Theodor Herzl, but the ideas did not develop without influence. While Alkalai was rabbi in Zemun, one of his students was named Simon Leob Herzl – the grandfather of the man who would become known as The Spiritual Father of the State of Israel.
For a more in-depth look at Rabbi Alkalai, see our article The Rabbi That Started It All.
Jewish History in the Balkans: